Communication Blossoms

By the time April tulip blossoms arrive, my New Year’s resolution is usually not only broken, it is not even remembered. This year, I did not even bother. I took a completely different approach that has paid off huge dividends. I juggle the hats of college professor and single mother every day. I decided to wear both at once and test a classroom listening technique to potentially enhance communication with my teenager. 

Teachers often embrace vulnerability and ask for feedback. One exercise is called the minute paper. This is done anonymously, so the student can speak freely. You ask what about the teacher and the class has been useful, meaningful, valuable. You ask what the teacher could be doing better. You ask about any lingering questions. There are usually some they were afraid to ask out loud or via email that they now can ask anonymously. This is outside of the traditional student surveys seen by school supervisors. I explain to my students that those surveys are only seen by the teacher at the end of the year. There is time to make corrections for the next year, but not the current term. I would rather get a chance to make potential improvements during the course, especially because these particular students might not be in my classroom again. 

I decided to try this exercise with my teen. We all know parenting a teen has its challenges. I learned long ago when my daughter was a toddler that communication can make all the difference (thank you sign language classes). Instead of making resolutions this year, my daughter and I did a unique exercise. I had to make a strong commitment to allowing her to speak freely without judgment because we couldn’t do the exercise anonymously. 

At first she felt a little overwhelmed, so I suggested she start with three things she likes about my parenting and three things she would like to change or see improved. She asked to add three new things she would like to start that we haven’t been doing. (Great idea!) 

There were genuine comments of praise and honest “opportunities for growth” that were expressed thoughtfully. I won’t share all of her comments, but I’m most happy she wrote she loves that she can be honest with me and she loves the feeling that I make her happiness and growth priorities. She had really great suggestions that can help our thirteenth year together go more smoothly than one might expect with a teen. Don’t fear the conversation. It is very rewarding.

For this to work, there has to be a relationship of trust. If the child doesn’t trust they can speak freely, start with building trust. Depending on the age of the child, you might start with asking for one piece of feedback in each section instead of three. Most importantly, listen without defending. That will be the hardest part, but it is also the most important part. When your teen sees you listening to understand, that is when trust is built. Trust will lead to better communication.

This is a time for everyone to put down their phones. You might talk about being excited for summer and wanting to set goals. Explain you are looking for some feedback and emphasize that the teen can speak freely without any negative consequences. Suggested questions are: (1) What do I do as a parent that you want me to keep doing? (2) What am I doing that you want me to stop doing? (3) What am I not doing that you want me to start doing? Embrace the vulnerability. Effective communication makes everything better. 

Christie Fierro teaches Communication at TCC and lives in Purdy.